Today, I read this in a NYT book review, written by Alan Ehrenhalt of John F. Harris's ''The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House'':
The passion of the Clinton haters is a phenomenon without equal in recent American politics. It is not based on any specific policies that Clinton promoted or implemented during his years in office. It is almost entirely personal. In its persistence and intensity, it goes far beyond anything that comparable numbers of people have felt about Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan or either of the presidents Bush. It surpasses even the liberals' longstanding detestation of Richard Nixon. The only political obsession comparable to it in the past century is the hatred that a significant minority of Americans felt for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.Sorry, I am not buying that. Clinton-hating and (G.W.) Bush-hating are at about the same intensity. Nixon-hating was wholly different. But it's quite clear that Ehrenhalt's real point is that Clinton didn't deserve it. Nevertheless, I stand by my point: if we're talking about visceral, emotional, nonrational loathing: Nixon got the most.
Ehrenhalt highlights the author's explanation of why Clinton inspired this hatred that he didn't deserve:
If, as Harris believes, Clinton was in the most important ways a competent president -- and certainly not a combative or ideological one -- then the conundrum of Clinton-hatred remains essentially unsolved. Harris does try to explain it. He suggests -- as others have -- that Clinton, not entirely through his own doing, suffered as the embodiment of a generation and a set of values that much of the country had never understood or been willing to accept. He was the tangible symbol of the Baby Boom, its conceits, its self-absorption, its lack of discipline and failures of responsibility. He was a child of the 1960's preaching to millions of people who had never come to terms with the 1960's and didn't want to be reminded of them.It's an interesting theory, really. It goes with my point that Nixon was hated on a more personal level. The theory that Clinton embodied the Boomers will probably stick. It fits the facts well enough, and it has a satisfying breadth. The theory saves us from needing to think about the historical details of the period -- what happened in Bosnia? -- and allows us to contemplate American culture. Let's think about the 60s!
Ah, dammit, I'm back to thinking about Nixon again.